We live in a digital age, and that has changed how people communicate. Two complete strangers can now have a discussion on any subject across continents and oceans alike. But you don’t really know a person until you have worked with them on a project. The digital age has a solution for that too in the form of open source, collaborative, and crowdsourced projects.
Open source projects are usually attributed to software, but there are hardware ones as well. Currently, there are several powered prosthetic hand designs out there such as OpenBionics.org and OpenBionics.com. These are just two of many projects that use the Creative Commons license (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License). In a nutshell, the license states that while a project is open source it can be copied and modified, all work and modifications have to be attributed, and more importantly, the project has to remain open source with no additional restrictions on its use.
Can open source projects be applied to robotics and hardware development such as exoskeletons? Maybe, although skeptics will be quick to point out that eventually there has to be a business model behind any collaborative projects. One variation is licensing the intellectual property being generated by the team. But what can a collaborative or even an open source project achieve?
One thing that collaborative, crowdsourced prosthetic projects have been successful in is to raise publicity and good will for powered prosthetics. The OpenHand project and many like it have been featured on numerous websites and magazine covers. These projects have spread two ideas all over the world:
- Everyone should have access to affordable powered prosthetics.
- People can work on a common project from all over the world.
So is it time for exoskeletons to have their own collaborative, crowdsourced project? Jonathan Roth, the man behind Rotbot Systems gives a resounding “YES!”
What is Rotbot Systems?
The first to engage in the development of an industrial exoskeleton, based on a crowdsourcing model. The vision is to drive progress by gathering a community of partners for the journey – engineers, designers, dreamers, and enthusiasts.
In the beginning, when the community is small the number of design projects will also be small, and they won’t be very complicated. Some projects can start as little more than forum discussions, but with time, increased participation, and experience they can become fully realized exoskeletons.
The initial project will be to crowd develop a passive full body suit using the open source approach. Development will happen along two paths, first will be the development of products suggested by the community, and the second path will be the development of products for commercial companies.
Products developed based on community suggestions will be sold via the project web site, naturally, being a collaborative project, people will be welcome to use the development to produce the products on their own if they want to.
In both cases, products developed according to the community ideas, and products developed for companies, the people that contributed to the development will get a share of the profits based on their individual contribution.
What is next?
Rotbot Systems is looking for people who would like to join the core group of the project. There are several accelerator programs that have already shown interest in the endeavor, but require more core members to get accepted into the program.
But before any of this can happen, the first step should be to build a new web platform for this exoskeleton crowdsourcing project. It will need to include several ingredients, first, it should provide access to a design software, and have a system that allows the group members to work together on the same design, something similar to GitHub in programming.
Who is needed?
A crowdsourced exoskeleton project is not built on money but on the enthusiasm and skills of its member community. The type of people needed is before anything else, enthusiasts willing to believe in exoskeleton projects. Beyond that, data engineers, computer programmers, mechanical & electronics engineers, and industrial & graphic designers will be highly sought. Of course, you don’t have to necessarily have an academic degree. But rather the knowledge needed to support the project goals (or the drive to acquire it).
Rome was not built in a day, and for Rotbot Systems to be successful it will require a vibrant community that is willing to work, learn, and play together to make the first-ever crowdsourced exoskeleton!
Want to sign-up or learn more?
Hop over to the Rotbot Systems website at http://www.rot-bot.com
Open source projects for prosthetic is also http://exiii-hackberry.com/ Maybe others.